June 6, 2003
Giant, stinky flower, 'Ted,' set to bloom
By Andy Fell
|Gary Chan, left, and Ernesto Sandoval of the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory prepare to move Ted the Titan.|
A rare and unusual plant is about to bloom at UC Davis; but at 6 feet tall with a scent of rotting meat, it likely won't be featured in anyone's wedding bouquet.
Amorphophallus titanum, also called Titan Arum or "corpse flower" because of its smell, is native to the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. This particular specimen was grown from seed at the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory, and conservatory staff have nicknamed it "Ted the Titan."
Ted is 8 years old and this will be its first bloom. The plant's bud first poked through the soil around May 15 and now stands just above 3 feet tall. It looks like a small, green-speckled missile with a skirt.
When the bloom opens, probably sometime after June 10, it will unfurl a ribbed, frilly petal-like structure known as a spathe, green on the outside and reddish-purple on the inside, around the base of a long conical structure, the spadix, 5 or 6 feet tall. The giant flower-like structure, which bears many small flowers at its base, will last for only about a day and a half before collapsing.
Titan Arum gives off its scent, which has been compared to rotting fish, bad eggs or a dead elephant, for about eight hours after the flower begins to open.
The stink is produced when the plant converts starch stored in the underground stem into chemical energy, which heats up volatile oils inside the flower and sends them wafting on surrounding air currents. The smell attracts flies and carrion-eating insects that pollinate the plant, said conservatory curator Ernesto Sandoval.
"Flies will go a long way for dead meat," he said.
The plants take up to 10 years to produce a flower and rarely bloom in cultivation.
Amorphophallus spends most of its life as an underground stem called a corm. Once a year, the plant puts out a single green leaf that lasts about six months. Eventually, it puts out a flower shoot instead, hoping to attract flies carrying pollen from another of its kind. After all that excitement, it goes back to one leaf a year, but may flower again after a few years' recuperation.
Other recent flowerings of Amorphophallus plants have been "Tiffy" at California State University, Fullerton; "Mr. Stinky" at the Fairchild Tropical Garden in Coral Gables, Fla.; and an unnamed plant in Bonn, Germany. The German flower set a new world record with a height of nearly 9 feet. The flowers have attracted big crowds of curious, if somewhat nauseated, visitors.
Ted the Titan will be on display to the public on campus daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. starting on June 11 and continuing until the bloom collapses. Its bloom status, location and parking recommendations will be reported online at http://greenhouse.ucdavis. edu/conservatory.htm.
The botanical conservatory serves the university and public communities as an educational facility, research resource and genetic diversity preserve. It houses more than 3,000 plant species in more than 150 families, including examples from most of the world's climatic regions.